When I was introduced to Neil deGrasse Tyson at Comic-Con in San Diego, at a cocktail party hosted by the National Geographic channel, the first thing Tyson said to me was “Your name is a constellation.” Which is true, as the Carina Constellation is visible in the Southern sky. But, I replied, it’s also an old blues song, most prominently by Leadbelly.
Tyson then rattled off several other blues artists in quick succession.
That’s the wonder of Tyson: that he can swap from constellation to blues in a split second. It makes him a perfect host for NatGeo’s StarTalk televised show, which arose from his podcast of the same name. The show seemed to be off to an erratic start in 2015, but over two seasons, it has garnered two Emmy nominations.
There’s also another element to Tyson’s appeal: he doesn’t talk down to people. I noticed him introducing himself to the waiters manning the wine station at the cocktail party, asking all their names, and shaking each person’s hand. He didn’t do this to be noticed, as only a few of us were over in that corner, so I must assume that he simply wanted to thank them. Whoever you are, whatever job you have, Tyson clearly values you.
That ability to talk to anyone is what makes the televised Star Talk so interesting. Each episode of the hourlong weekly series features an interview with Tyson and a guest discussing how science and technology have affected their lives and careers.
In the 20 episodes aired so far, the guests have ranged from George Takei to Bill Clinton to Norman Lear to Charles Bolden of NASA. Take the Clinton episode: not only does it include an interview with the former President but also an answer to an artificial intelligence query from a viewer and a discussion about scientific advances with co-host Chuck Nice and guest scientist Juan Enriques.
Season three guests will include U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, two-time Olympic gold medalist Hope Solo, actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik, and The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.
The show will premiere on Monday, Sept. 19 at 11/10c with guest Whoopi Goldberg and that will also coincide with the release of the StarTalk book, StarTalk with Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe and Beyond. published by National Geographic Books. The book is an illustrated companion to the show and podcast and features photos, sidebars, fascinating facts, and fun quotes from science and entertainment luminaries.